Thursday, April 30, 2015

"Vibrant Matter" in the art room

"It is never we who affirm or deny something of a thing; 
it is the thing itself that affirms or denies something of itself in us." 
Baruch Spinoza, Short Tretise II

Hello my friends,

I visited Jeanne Walker's room today at Hancock High School. The art room was gorgeous and full of vibrant matter and possibilities. As I mentioned in my last blog post, I am reading about new materialism and post humanism. Now I look at this beautiful art room exploding with "thing power" and wonder what might these "things" be calling us to do?

Reinforcing the sculptural chairs with paper mache.
A non-chair related project involves these beautiful mannequin heads covered in gold leaf. The beauty of these materials cannot be captured by a photo. One has to feel the materiality of gold leaf.

This one seems to speak to me as a throne.
Recently I have been wondering, what if we were to re-conceive of the art room's materiality differently?  Jane Bennett who I mentioned in the last post says "'thing power' works because it's in the nature of our bodies to be susceptible to infusion, invasion, collaboration by or with other bodies." Are these "things" that are in the art room more than mere objects? How do they call to us? How do our bodies interact with a sense of inter corporality through the "things'" bodies? Our bodies and the bodies of "things" have a protective membrane and yet somehow these "things" become us or do we become them? They permeate us and we permeate them. 

In our Studio Night conversation yesterday several people spoke about the way in which school administrators cannot see the potential in the art room. So often the administrator is baffled by the "chaos" present in the art room. I think we could re-think what is actually going on in the art room through the concepts of vibrant matter and new materialism. I also want to share what Elizabeth Grosz has written in her book Chaos, territory, art. She says "the arts produce and generate intensity, that which directly impacts the nervous system and intensifies sensation." (2008, p. 3). So what if the outsider entering into this "chaos" is actually having a somatic experience where the material sensations in the room are so powerful they shut a person down? As visual artists we take for granted that materials speak to us and that perhaps "chaos" opens us up to new possibilities. 

These materials do indeed stimulate the body and produce new sensations, new ideas, new potentialities. How can we help others enter into this experience especially when students and teachers are in the midst of production/creation? This is time of great intensity. These are really exciting ideas to think about because they do produce real affects (overwhelm, claustrophobia, fear, longing) and real effects (low ratings on teacher evaluations due to a misunderstanding of what the art room does).

The materials collected for these chairs are indeed vibrant. I invite you all to consider these questions. What if we write a piece together and/or co-present at the NAEA next year in Chicago around these ideas? I am always honored to come into your exquisite spaces. Thank you.
Jeanne's students are working on these stunning sculptural chairs that invite people into safe spaces to have difficult conversations. These chairs/sculptures will be installed outside of the school for a performance/celebration on May 12th from 4-6 p.m. for a project called On the table.  A cookout and conversations will be held to inaugurate the chairs in the space and feature the opening of the safe spaces art and sculpture exhibition. Please come to 56th and Kosner (near Pulaski) for this special event!

Friday, April 24, 2015

new materialism and post humanism

I attended the American Educational Research Association's annual conference April 16-20th in Chicago. As you can imagine there were thousands and thousands of educational researchers from around the world milling about like particles of matter beautifully collected and diffused at the same time 

The conference topics were as diverse as the people. I tended to gravitate towards arts-based research, gender/queer studies, social justice and experimental research sessions.

By Sunday I had fallen into a crowd of people who were pursuing research in the areas of new materialism and post humanism. I had not yet encountered these ideas and found it really thrilling to come into contact with these new concepts. I'm an incurable conceptualist! 

New materialism and post humanism addresses life beyond the human subject. We are so drawn to looking at our lives on this planet through the lens of the human subject that to imagine a different way of looking requires a radical alteration of thinking, being, feeling. How might we look at other perspectives beyond our own? I love this lecture by Jane Bennett on Artistry and Agency in a world of vibrant materiality. Here she is looking at hoarders and their "thing power". How many visual artists and art teachers love to collect things and what might these things be saying to us? How can we attune to things rather than humans? Bennett talks about some intriguing ideas with regards to hoarders. She says that hoarders find comfort in things as they have a longer mortality than humans. Perhaps this is a way for us to cope with what is unbearable - loss. She says the hoarder sees things as extensions of the "self." This a lovely ideas in terms of our attraction to objects. They call to us. 

Around ideas related to new materialism theorist Karen Barad suggests we turn our attention away from the human subject through a process of diffraction. Barad refers to Donna Haraways' concepts of diffraction in this interview: 

"As Donna says, “diffraction patterns record the history of interaction, interference, reinforcement, difference. Diffraction is about heterogeneous history, not about originals. Unlike reflections, diffractions do not displace the same elsewhere, in more or less distorted form, thereby giving rise to industries of [story-making about origins and truths]. Rather, diffraction can be a metaphor for another kind of critical consciousness.” What I was pointing out is the difference in the shift from geometrical optics, from questions of mirroring and sameness, reflexivity, where to see your image in the mirror there necessarily has to be a distance between you and the mirror. So there is a separation of subject and object, and objectivity is about mirror images of the world. And instead, the shift towards diffraction, towards differences that matter, is really a matter of what physicists call physical optics as compared to geometrical optics. . . By contrast, diffraction allows you to study both the nature of the apparatus and also the object. That is, both the nature of light and also the nature of the apparatus itself.  .  . Diffraction, understood using quantum physics, is not just a matter of interference, but of entanglement, an ethico-onto-epistemological matter. This difference is very important. It underlines the fact that knowing is a direct material engagement, a cutting together-apart, where cuts do violence but also open up and rework the agential conditions of possibility." (taken from New materialisms: interviews and cartographies).

Are you with me now? I'll write more soon. My head is swirling.